Women’s poverty on the rise in Hong Kong in spite of economic growth

The Poverty Stakeholder Engagement Forum was held on 8 March 2007. GIFT’s Thomas Tang facilitated a small group that was taking part in the forum.

Press release from The Women’s Foundation:
Women’s poverty on the rise in Hong Kong in spite of economic growth

Opinion leaders meet to find concrete solutions to “feminine” poverty issue

Hong Kong, 8 March 2007 – Over 50 individuals representing government, corporates, foundations, academia, donors and NGOs heard today that in spite of enjoying strong economic growth, Hong Kong continues to see the poverty rate rise.

The Poverty Stakeholder Engagement Forum was held in honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th and was organized by The Women’s Foundation and sponsored by Goldman Sachs.

“Over the past decade there has been a 33% increase in the number of women living in poverty,” said Dr Mike Yao from Department of English and Communications at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) and member of the board of directors of The Women’s Foundation. “More Hong Kong women than men are attaining tertiary education, but are earning less than men across all professions.”

The forum concluded that improvement will come about only through a greater policy role from government, more community co-ordination and additional research.

On the area of research, Dr Wong Hung from the Department of Social Work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong released findings on surprising new groups of women at risk of falling into poverty. Dr Leung Lai-ching, from the Department of Applied Social Studies, CityU discussed her holistic solution to the “feminine” poverty issue. Dr Yao introduced a new framework to fight poverty for women in Hong Kong. Panelists included Fong Man Ying from Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centres and Wu Meilin from the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association. Also among the attendees were three Legislative Council members: Frederick Fung, Fernando Cheung and Lee Cheuk Yan. The event was moderated by Christine Fang, Chief Executive of The Hong Kong Council of Social Service.

The preview of yet-to-be published research by Dr Wong Hung revealed that women are currently at risk of making up the majority of the working poor and that this number has been steadily increasing for Hong Kong due to a changing gender nature of jobs within the food services industry. A recovering economy from 2004 created more jobs, mostly low paid, contractual and part-time in the kitchen. However, when new immigrant women took these jobs, taking lower wages (HK$6000-7000 to HK$3800-4000) this not only displaced males, but created a new population of working poor.

A summary of the Forum’s key recommendations are as follows:

1. Greater government role: More active gender-specific policy strategies to alleviate poverty for women; specifically policies related to enacting a minimum wage, a child care solution, compensation and/or retirement benefits for caretakers and benefits for part-time workers. Address the needs and perspectives of marginalized groups such as new immigrants, the disabled, ethnic minorities and single mothers through improved government policies and services. The one-year pilot transport subsidy scheme in last week’s government budget was applauded as a good first step. Frederick Fung from Legislative Council cautioned that a holistic approach is necessary, however. “Hong Kong needs private sector help. The government alone cannot do it,” he said.

2. Co-ordination: Capacity building, cooperation and co-ordination on a community and territory level is needed for existing and new initiatives such as skills training, empowerment programmes and co-operative social enterprise programmes. More co-ordination from the government, especially from advisory entities such as the Commission on Poverty and The Women’s Commission, is needed to tackle the co-ordination role in a systematic way. Dr Mike Yao said, “There are many local initiatives to help the poor, but who is connecting the dots?

3. Research: Many participants offered research ideas that could be funded by government, private sector and groups like The Women’s Foundation. The ideas ranged from feasibility studies on care-takers, physically challenged women, and the unique skill sets of district communities. Frederick Fung from Legco stated, “The Women’s Foundation, by funding research and through the new framework presented today, can help society push the fast-forward button on poverty alleviation.”

Notes for Editors

The Women’s Foundation has selected three areas of long-term focus, based on the Benchmark Study, The Status of Women and Girls in Hong Kong 2006 and from stakeholder feedback from a community symposium in 2006 under the umbrella of women’s economic self-reliance: 1) Breaking the cycle of poverty, 2) Increasing women’s role in the decision-making processes, and 3) Preparing girls for success in the future. Focus groups, one-on-one interviews and stakeholder meetings are being used to conduct in-depth study of each focus area and will include research to identify the groups working on the problem, the barriers, and strategic, collaborative solutions which address root causes. The Women’s Foundation will collaborate with the community on programming and research to make advances in each priority area.

Reports will be published and distributed showing the results of further research and stakeholder discussion.

The research is posted at www.thewomensfoundationhk.org